We did it! On May 14th Friends & Farmers submitted a proposal to the Local Food Promotion Program (USDA AMS) for nearly $100,000.
Before I go any further, Board Member Jim Eisenstein took this on as a full time job for the last two weeks and we are all indebted to him for that. Board members Catie Rasmussen and Michele Marchetti and Market Manager Melanie Rosenberger also worked like mad to fine-tune and submit it.
The grant program’s stated purpose is “…to support the development and expansion of local and regional food business enterprises to increase domestic consumption of, and access to, locally and regionally produced agricultural products, and to develop new market opportunities for farm and ranch operations serving local markets.”
That’s practically OUR purpose!
Friends & Farmers Online Market is growing fast. Since November our customers have purchased over $35,000 in local products from 20 vendors. There are so many things this market can do and our proposal’s first draft covered it all. But Jim asked some questions of the grant administrators, and discovered some quirky exclusions. It was a scramble at the end and we had to make some informed guesses at what they would cover. Here is a summary of our proposal, beginning with our objective:
“Increase the awareness, consumption and production of local food in Centre County by creating a wholesale Online Market and expanding the Friends & Farmers retail Online Market, and increase the demand for local food by publicizing the online markets and educating the public on the benefits of eating locally.”
To accomplish this objective, we proposed to use the grant funds to:
- lease a small space that we can use for storage and distribution of retail and wholesale orders. This would enable us to expand the total sales, potentially distribute to retail customers twice a week instead of once a week, probably move the distribution to a site that is more convenient for customers, and house an office for the co-op to continue work toward a true retail store.
- purchase refrigeration equipment which will be owned by the cooperative and can be moved to our retail store.
- rent a truck on a regular basis to deliver wholesale orders.
- extend our online ordering system with a phone app that would make ordering more convenient for wholesale and retail customers.
- offer our outreach coordinator’s “Seasonal Eating on a Budget” class at many more venues.
- hire an individual or agency to handle co-op marketing. For example, we could increase our presence in radio ads, purchase a CATA bus ad, and use online and print advertising much more than we do.
- pay a grant administrator.
The online market expansion project has a two-year timeframe and the grant required 25% matching funds which we were easily able to meet by documenting the time invested by our volunteers and wages paid to our two existing staff members.
The decision to use this grant to invest in the Friends & Farmers Online Market was driven mostly by the requirements of the grant – but the board and volunteers agreed that the growth of the online market can help F&F build membership. Ultimately, increasing our membership is imperative to achieve our goal of a community grocery store. The activities that would be funded by this grant will increase awareness of the co-op’s mission throughout the community and more people will invest in the vision.
Fingers crossed! Decisions on LFPP grant proposals are expected mid-summer.
(note: this is just a mock-up of a van we hope to have some day!)